Student Graduate Project Encourages Environmental Awareness and Stewardship for the Land

Friday, August 7 2009


MOSCOW, Idaho – When it comes to community sharing and support centered on the environment, education and sustainability, the Moscow-Pullman community is tops. University of Idaho student Anne Izard found that out when she began her master’s degree research project last fall.

Izard worked with McDonald Elementary School second and sixth graders to create a visual outdoor classroom garden space intended to encourage active hands-on, inquiry-based learning, environmental awareness, and stewardship for the land and its resources. She was surprised with the businesses and individuals who were so willing to step in and provide help and resources.

Izard currently is pursuing her secondary teaching certificate through the College of Education while earning her master’s degree in Conservation and Social Sciences. She collaborated with teachers Debbie Bell and Brian Carhart at McDonald School to create a 30-foot by 12-foot garden space with six raised beds. Izard built the beds out of two-by-six planks with the help of some friends and transported them to the site, where they were filled with donated compost from Washington State University.

“Originally, I figured I was going to have to apply for a grant for the materials,” said Izard. “McDonald School’s principal, Laurie Austin, said we needed start-up costs, so the school donated funds for materials. Then we applied for and received a grant from the Moscow Food Co-op.”

Last month, the garden beds were placed on the east side of the school. Numerous community members showed up to help. In addition to the donations of soil and compost from WSU, Tri State donated soil from bags that had split during delivery, the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute provided tools and wheelbarrows, and Backyard Harvest donated seeds.

“Wheatberries even gave us rolls on workday,” said Izard. “We planted lettuce this spring and will plant pumpkins right before school is out so they can be harvested in the fall.”

When Amy Grey, director of Backyard Harvest in Moscow, found out that Izzard had received a grant from the Moscow Food Co-op for the school garden, she knew she wanted to from a partnership. Grey started Backyard Harvest in 2006 to collect produce from gardeners and distribute it to local programs that serve senior citizens and families in need.

"I went into this thinking it was about fruits and vegetables," Grey said. "But I realized it is about community and people sharing with their neighbors."

Grey contacted Izard and suggested they collaborate. “She had been wanting to get involved in the schools,” said Izard. “When I was first talking to Amy, I told her that I didn’t think we would be giving them that much food. But her whole thought was, this is our foot in the door of the schools. This has been one of her goals.”

Backyard Harvest will tend to the gardens over the summer with the help of Adventure Club, a self-supporting, not-for-profit, after school and summer program for elementary school-age children. It's a good way to keep the students involved.

“Everybody has been so supportive and excited,” said Izard.

Debbie Bell and Brian Carhart told Izard they needed someone with energy to keep the garden project going. “So we started this little garden committee, which now consists of me, Debbie, Brian and Amy,” said Izard. “We hope that in the fall we can get two teachers who would like to get involved, then maybe a sixth grader who could look over it. We would like to incorporate more grades as well and set this up as a model for other schools to get involved.“

Izard’s project doesn’t end with the garden. Part of her master’s degree project is to put together a group of lesson plans for the teachers at the school incorporating math, science, language, writing and journaling, The final component will be a resource book on how to get a garden started and where to look for funding – which can be beneficial for a school district. “Schools can get the whole thing going for about $500,” said Izard.

“The students have been so excited and ask the best questions,” said Izard. “I am encouraging inquiry-based learning. Some of them asked why this lettuce died, but the one next to it didn’t die? They have been super energetic, and now when I come into the school they say, “'Yeah, we’re going to the garden!’”

Izard will graduate from the University of Idaho in December, and is not entirely sure what she will be doing. “My pipe dream right now is to go back to Silverton, Colorado, and build a high altitude greenhouse. I’m originally from the Carolinas and grew up in summer camp, so that’s where the outdoor education interest came from. But I’m not ready to go back to the east coast, even though my parents are encouraging me to come back,” she said.

Over time, school gardens can provide outdoor laboratories for children where they can learn a number of valuable lessons.

“Several long-term projects can be created that will continue to encourage sustainable progress in the school such as incorporating the harvest into the cafeteria food, creating school compost piles, establishing rainwater catchments to water the garden, connecting with local farmers to start a farm-to-school program, and establishing a garden coop among the schools and/or community,” said Izard.

For more information about Backyard Harvest, visit www.backyardharvest.org.

Written by Cheryl Dudley